Despite Top Draft Position, Jaguars Must Temper Expectations for Dante Fowler

Justis Mosqueda@justisfootballFeatured ColumnistMay 10, 2016

Dante Fowler, left, stands with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, right, on stage after being drafted third by Jacksonville in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Chicago.  (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)
Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

After the NFL draft, we enter this dark, vacant space as a football writing community. With nothing to look forward to in sight, other than veteran optional workouts and rookie minicamps, everyone in arm's reach is tasked with pumping out post-draft grades.

You can go back on forth on the value of these exercises, but they do seem to capture the feeling of individual draft classes from a "hype train" standpoint. One franchise's draft class, the Jacksonville Jaguars', stands out specifically in that aspect.

Bucky Brooks of NFL Network, Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus, Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN.com, Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated and Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today, among others, all gave the Jaguars a grade in the A range.

In fact, B/R's Danny Webster gave them an A-plus.

RoundSelectionPositionPlayerSchool
15DBJalen RamseyFlorida State
236LBMyles JackUCLA
369EDGEYannick NgakoueMaryland
4103DLSheldon DayNotre Dame
6181EDGETyrone HolmesMontana
6201QBBrandon AllenArkansas
7226DLJonathan WoodardCentral Arkansas

Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack were both considered top-five talents at full health.

Ramsey fell into the Jaguars' lap at No. 5, and Jack's story is more blunt: His knee might not hold up for a second contract. Even though he missed most of his true junior season, many assumed Jack would be a high draft pick.

That didn't last after Jack acknowledged this, per the New York Post's Bart Hubbuch:

The other top-200 picks, Maryland edge defender Yannick Ngakoue, Notre Dame defensive lineman Sheldon Day and Montana edge defender Tyrone Holmes, also provide upside to the defense.

The draft isn't the only reason for channeling excitement around the team.

Jacksonville also signed $90 million defensive lineman Malik Jackson, former Pro Bowl safety Tashaun Gipson and former first-round cornerback Prince Amukamara. The Jaguars defense greatly improved this offseason.

Despite all of these moves, one might think the best addition to their 2016 defense may not come from acquisition. The No. 3 overall pick from the 2015 draft is slated to play his first snaps in a Jacksonville jersey this coming year. Defensive end Dante Fowler tore his ACL in rookie minicamp last season, which kept him out for the year.

During the draft, we heard from ESPN's Ed Werder, NFL.com's Chris Wesseling and even the Senior Bowl's Patrick Woo about the potential of Fowler lining up next to the Jaguars' 2016 class, as if he's a sure thing to be a 10-sack player.

Judging by historical numbers, that's an unfair expectation.

Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country, a top writer, said projecting five to six sacks for Fowler makes him a "hater" in the community. It led me to run a short study on players of Fowler's background and their production at his age. For the most part, "athletic" pass-rushers do better in the NFL than non-athletic pass-rushers.

While that may seem obvious, the NFL routinely takes players who aren't elite-level athletes at edge-rusher positions in the first round. Fowler is one of them.

While Fowler ran a fast 40-yard dash coming out of Florida (4.60), his Mock Draftable spiderweb of athleticism outside of that one event isn't great. In fact, his three-cone time, arguably the most important drill in terms of next-level projection at his position, is in the 23rd percentile, even with his "tweener" 261-pound frame.

He ran a 7.40-second time in that drill. For reference, here are the names of players who ran a 7.40 or worse in the three-cone drill between 2005 and 2015 as future first-round pass-rushers (h/t NFL.com and NFLDraftScout.com):

  • Shane Ray: 7.60 seconds
  • Quinton Coples: 7.57 seconds
  • Erasmus James: 7.56 seconds
  • Robert Ayers: 7.56 seconds
  • Aaron Maybin: 7.56 seconds
  • Alvin Dupree: 7.49 seconds
  • Marcus Smith: 7.48 seconds
  • Jarvis Jones: 7.46 seconds

Heading into this season, Fowler is going to be a 22-year-old, and for players of Fowler's range of athleticism at that age, the mean was 2.91 sacks for the season. If we're judging the group by their sack total in their first year of seeing live NFL snaps, the mean is 2.31 sacks.

Numbers would suggest the five- to six-sack mark is more of a goal than something to settle for.

Even if you just looked at last year's rookie class, only two pass-rushers posted six or more sacks: Preston Smith, who had 10 pounds on Fowler and ran a 7.07-second three-cone drill, and Danielle Hunter, who ran a 6.95-second three-cone drill.

Fractions of a second might seem ticky-tacky, but they are not.

While 0.45 seconds doesn't seem like much, the difference between a 4.40-second 40-yard dash and a 4.85-second 40-yard dash would have the media gasping. However, because there isn't that familiarity with the three-cone, which should be the measurement of athleticism for players who have to use ankle flexion and hip flexibility to bend around offensive tackles, this form of athletic assessment is overlooked.

There's plenty to be excited about in Jacksonville, but counting on Fowler to be a game-changer in 2016 is asking too much.

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